As a Christian: Am I Better For It?

The last few days I've been discussing the nature of what Christianity actually produces in the world. My friend Nate pointed to a fabulous Times article that really surprised and inspired me. It's an atheist, advocating for more Christian evangelism in Africa:


But what I've been asking myself for awhile now is: am I a better person because of Jesus?

I know for certain that there have been times in my life where I "took the high road" so-to-speak, because of my Christianity. Had it not been for my spiritual/religious convictions, I may have acted differently.

But here's the rub: I can identify just as many (if not MORE) instances - and periods - in my life, where I was a far worse human being because of my Christianity. Don't get me wrong: I don't think the truth of Christianity, or the heart of Christianity, or the spirit of Jesus - or the Holy Spirit - ever made me a worse person. But Christian culture did. Expectations I placed on myself, and expectations of others within my religious context, did. Christian pop and James Dobson and the 700 Club and all sorts of Christianized voices surrounding me, did. And I let them. I accepted what I was told about Jesus - about God - about the Bible - about myself - as absolute truth.

And anything "other" made me angry. Because I was told to be angry. Many of us have been literally told to tap into the darkest parts of ourselves and exploit those baser instincts on behalf of a "gospel" that looks more like war.

I still don't think I was ever a genuinely cruel or wicked person. But I was not better for Christianity all of the time.

Today?

I honestly can't tell you if I'm a better human being because of Christianity. I love Jesus - and I think love itself is redemptive. I love people, but I'm not sure that would be any different without God. Maybe only others can judge what the fruits of my life really are, and really have been.

And asking for that kind of feedback scares the hell out of me. Not just hearing the negative, but also hearing the positive. So I'm not asking for it. But I WOULD like to know how YOU feel: do you see your life as radically changed by Christ? Not just your beliefs, but your very day-to-day living.

I know there are lots of folks who will say "yes." And I'll believe you if you tell me that. But I'd challenge us all to really think about Christianity in comparison/contrast to our own internal moral code(s). You might be a pretty nice person without Jesus. Or you might not.

I realize none of this deals with the issue of "salvation," which is paramount to many Christians. And I'm not saying that question isn't important. But let's try to think of salvation as a process, rather than a point in time. Let's also look at salvation as corporate, communal, and having a direct impact in the salvation of the world and all of Creation itself, rather than just your own ethereal soul (I know, you might not like that, but indulge me...)

6 comments:

Brandon K. Baker said...

Peter,

This conversation is rocking my world, just so you know. :)

You wrote: "I love people, but I'm not sure that would be any different without God."

I think it is hard to say that it wouldn't be different without God. 1) because you are not without God and cannot know what you might have been sans God, and 2) we can't assume that just because you might have chosen atheism that God wouldn't still be choosing to do work through you.

I don't think we can assume that Christians have a monopoly on God working through them. God works good through all people regardless of religion. I'm not saying that all good is the direct action of God (this would assume that we are all incapable of doing good and are merely destitute cesspools of evil that are occasionally affected by God to do good), but I think that whether one is a Christian or not, God is still working to make you a better person.

I think that God has done good through me regardless of my willingness to cooperate. I think that I can rest in the fact that God wrestled me out of fundamentalism. I think I can find hope in the idea that God ignores religious boundaries when seeking to affect people for the betterment of themselves and those they come in contact with.

Peter said...

Beautifully said, Brandon. I'm glad you're enjoying the convo - I am too.

You said:
"we can't assume that just because you might have chosen atheism that God wouldn't still be choosing to do work through you."

Absolutely! I think it's especially interesting when secular organizations - or those of other faiths - do the work that the Christian Church should OBVIOUSLY be doing. A truth I believe in is that God will get things done, with or without our help.

But I'd rather be a part of affecting transformative good in the world.

Becca said...

Pete,

I love that you think about this stuff. I really do. Not thinking about it is what hurts the world. At least that's what I think.

So, I'm going to share...
I believe in God. I imagine God as a being that is all of the happiness, love, and wisdom that I believe is in all of us. And I imagine that energy being life affirming and powerful; miracles and magic happen from it. I try really hard NOT to picture this in a "human" form, because I believe it isn't. That's hard to do.

Jesus, on the other hand...I'm up in the air on the whole "savior" thing...not becuase I don't believe, but because I feel uneducated, and I don't want to choose a belief system just because its the easiest thing for me to believe. I feel a necessity to educate myself about other religions before I make a decision. And, I admit, I havent' taken the time to do that. BUT, I do feel like there are certain "beings" who have existed in the world who have been able to embody,(sp?), the energy that is God. I believe that Jesus was one of those people.

So, do I believe that Christ, or God, has made me a better person. The answer, for me, is yes. Believing in something bigger than myself; something that has that magic and that love and that energy, has helped me through some difficult times. That belief system makes me look at things as a bigger picture, (even though sometimes I REALLY don't want to), instead of my own little reality.
For me, believing makes me look beyond myself... and I truly believe that is a wonderful thing.

Thank you so much for providing this forum. These are things that are so important to me, but which I rarely discuss...

Peter said...

Becca, thank you - I'm really glad you chose to share this! I think there are a lot of people who feel that way - who believe in God, and who may even resonate with Jesus, but see choosing (or moreso: "proclaiming") Jesus as inherently divisive.

For example, I performed a wedding a few years ago, where both bride and groom believed in Jesus, but neither wanted refrence to Jesus in prayer, because that name had come to symbolize so much pain and wounding for many of their friends.

I wonder if we've made the choice to follow Jesus too all-or-nothing. That to follow Christ automatically means to reject any wisdom or goodness from other tradtions...

I think you're right Becca: when people are inspired to think beyond their microcosms, to explore what real goodness is, then it doesn't matter from what ANGLE it's coming. Goodness is goodness.

David Henson said...

I think I am better for religion, but not necessarily because I believe in God.

Religion binds us together. Belief in God does not, necessarily.

Jeanine said...

Morality apart from repentance is nothing more than self-righteousness. Jesus told a story about a Pharisee and a tax gatherer. The Pharisee thanked God that he was a good person, but the tax gatherer begged God for forgiveness for his sin. The tax gatherer went away justified. The bible teaches that God looks to those who are broken in spirit (humble) and who fear (respect) His word.

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